Lambert & Stamp – Film Review

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The new documentary Lambert & Stamp from first-time film director James D. Cooper is not only riveting, it’s probably close to the kind of film its two swinging London characters of the film’s title had always wanted to make for themselves but never did.

The time is post-World War 2; it’s London in the early sixties when a revolutionary cultural change was taking place faster than anyone over the age of forty could handle.  Teenagers were absolute beginners and had started to embrace the new, in-your-face, pop/rock sounds of groups – referring to them as bands came later – like The Beatles, Freddie and the Dreamers and Gerry and the Pacemakers.

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It was during this early period that an unlikely bond between two equally unlikely Londoners came to be.  Chris Stamp (brother to actor Terence Stamp) was from a working class background who played in the derelict bomb sites left over from the Second World War and whose father worked on the tugboats of the River Thames, guiding ships safely into London Docks.  Kit Lambert was from upper-class stock who was educated at Oxford University and whose father was composer and classical music conductor Constant Lambert.  His godfather was the famous composer, William Walton. To say that Lambert and Stamp were as different as chalk and cheese is to understate the matter.

A chance meeting at a London coffee shop called Act One Scene One resulted with the two young men reaching an agreement.  They both wanted to be film directors and decided that the only way they could break into the industry was to find a rock and roll group, make them successful, then make a documentary about what they had done.  The only problem was they knew nothing about the music industry.  “We never said we knew how to do it,” Chris Stamp, the only surviving partner at the time of filming the documentary, states in one of the many revealing interviews throughout the film.

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It was at The Railway Club in Wealdstone that Lambert and Stamp first saw The Who.  The group had gone through several changes before either of the two hopeful entrepreneurs came into the picture, but by the time Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp arrived, the lineup of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon and John Entwistle was already in place.  “Kit was the first person who was ever interesting to me,” Daltrey said.  And as for Chris Stamp, in Daltrey’s words:  “He did not give a monkey’s toss if he needed to break the rules.”  Even though the two men who wanted to be the group’s managers had no experience, the group was on board.  “Their ideas were fantastic,” Daltrey said, “And that’s all I cared about.”

First to go was the name.  At the time, the group was called High Numbers, but on the tickets that were being given away, High Numbers sounded like a night of bingo.  The other and considerably lengthier name used was The Hair And The Who, but that sounded more like a pub, so they cut it down to simply The Who, and it clicked.

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The opening, black and white interview with Pete Townshend is filmed in such extreme close-up, reminiscent of the overly intimate style of close-ups used in early BBC TV documentaries before widescreen monitors became the norm, you worry that the rest of the film will be the same – the style, while okay for TV, is too much for a cinema canvas – but once a well framed Chris Stamp is interviewed in color with a stark white background, the documentary uses a medium shot making everything that follows easier on the eye.

The documentary takes us on a journey from the early sixties up until the present, highlighting key events and, through interviews, revealing fascinating facts regarding the backgrounds of things we knew about but had no clue how they came to be.  The stutter used by Daltrey in My Generation came from a suggestion by Stamp who thought the sound would reflect that of a typical teenager trying to express himself.  There are also the reflections from Townshend commenting openly on his fellow band mates.  “John Entwhistle was a genius,” he states.  “Roger was normal and lost and didn’t know his role.”  And as for drummer Keith Moon?  “Keith was not a drummer,” Townhend states.  “He did something else,” referring to Moon’s unique and often manic performing style that visually looked as exciting as the sound it produced.

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The film jumps from glorious black and white to moments of color revealing how ironic the visual difference can be.  When in black and white, the film displays a distinct time and place; when in color, things simply look dated.  Interviews are filmed and edited with the energy of a rock number, while the songs themselves play in continual short bursts on the soundtrack.  We never see a complete performance, just glimpses, including brief moments from Woodstock and a speedy compilation of scenes from the Ken Russell production of Tommy.

Kit Lambert died in 1981 after falling down the stairs of his mother’s house.  Chris Stamp was still alive at the time of the documentary and is seen throughout, though he died of cancer in 2012.  Nowhere in the end credits is this mentioned; at least, not in the screening print used at the reviewer’s preview.  Perhaps later prints might include this important detail.

Anyone who ever bought a record by The Who should know the names of Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert.  Their names were always there, on the label.  In the same way that producer George Martin was considered to be the fifth member of The Beatles, such were the hands-on approach to everything the band did or recorded, Lambert and Stamp were considered to be the fifth and sixth members of The Who.  This terrific, must-see documentary explains in nothing less than fascinating detail why.

 MPAA Rating:  R     Length:  117 Minutes    Overall Rating:  9 (out of 10)

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